10. Manger on McNichols- Boldly James & Sterling Toles
Seeing Boldy James at such a vulnerable place is what makes Manger on McNichols so special. While the rapper has never been afraid to express himself, his heartfelt storytelling has never been this focused, and with its crippling tales that cover sore subjects such as abortion and suicide, this is one of the most lyrically scarring experiences in recent memory. In the production department, Sterling Toles’ elegantly engineered score layers each word of the Detroit MC’s masterfully. Although this may not be the most iconic record from Boldy’s historic year, it is his 2020 magnum opus.
9. King’s Disease- Nas
After the critically panned Kanye West-produced NASIR and its even worse follow up, The Lost Tapes 2, many doubted Nas’s ability this late into his career, but it seems that teaming up with Hit-Boy was all that was needed to reaffirm his dominance. What makes King’s Disease like no other record in the Queens legends catalog is its ability to bridge the old with the new, as Esco teams up with everyone from his Firm crew to Anderson .Paak and Don Tolliver. Through 13 tracks of this, Nas’s most sonically and topically distinctive LP becomes immortalized for the meaning it holds in his goat case.
8. Spirit World Field Guide- Aesop Rock
Spirit World Field Guide marks the newest world-building experience from legendary wordsmith Aesop Rock. Narrating us through a mystical dystopian society, the 44-year-old MC pulls thoughts from the darkest crevices of his mind to compel listeners into understanding this frightening society that is inhabited by ravenous animals and ghostly forces. With its masterfully curated eerie tales covering ideas such as murder, depression, and eternal suffering, the New York-based rapper’s self-produced soundtrack and top tier pen game bind together to make another memorable addition to his flawless catalog.
7. No Pressure- Logic
On his farewell album, Logic overcame all odds washing the sour taste left in fans’ mouths from the string of terrible records precursing it. No Pressure is the ultimate experience for any fan of the 30-year-old rapper as it serves as the follow up to his classic debut, the redemption of his artistic integrity, and the final chapter of the long and messy story we have witnessed unfold over the past decade. From seeing Bobby find the true meaning of happiness to expressing the love towards his newborn son and family, his maturest ideas are developed over an angelic soundscape masterfully engineered by mainly No I.D. and 6ix. Looking back on Logic’s final LP, it will undisputedly be solidified as the most significant turnaround in the genre’s extensive 47-year history.
6. From King To A God- Conway the Machine
While his Griselda counterparts spent 2020 predominantly focusing on brand expansion and cultural recognition, Conway the Machine kept it close to home with his debut studio album From King To A God. Emphasized through its spoken-word interludes from fallen mentor and friend Dj Shay, the record loosely follows the 38-year-old rapper’s journey from street legend to hip hop star. With perfectly placed features, a grimey soundtrack, and most importantly, passionate songwriting, the LP is easily Conway’s finest work to date.
5. Pray for Paris- Westside Gunn
In a city known for its elegance, glamor, and wealth, the last thing you would associate it with is Buffalo, New York’s Westside Gunn, and that’s reinforced throughout his third album, Pray for Paris. Focusing on his unlikely position in hip hop and fashion culture, the underground icon teams up with some of both industries’ biggest names to break the mainstream’s preconceived notions about him. From the Grammy-Winning Tyler the Creator’s vocal and production credits to Louis Vuitton head designer Virgil Abloh being responsible for the cover art, this record’s star power is nearly unmatched. Adding to this, more of rap’s key players such as Joey Bada$$, Wale, Freddie Gibbs, and DJ Premier feed off Gunn’s illustrious performance with some of their best moments ever. Whether it’s Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy or Travis Scott’s Astroworld, every musical visionary has a star-studded record that completely changes their image, and for Westside Gunn, it’s this.
4. Alfredo- Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist
Riding off the success of their previous collaborations with Madlib and Boldy James respectively, Freddie Gibbs and The Alchemist had all the momentum needed for Alfredo. Rapping over elegant loops with undeniable intricacies, Gibbs and company float over Uncle Al’s glorious soundtrack with their free-flowing lyricism covering everything from drug dealing to the death of Kobe Bryant. Between Freddie Gibbs’s one of a kind charisma, the array of A-list features including Rick Ross and Benny the Butcher slathered in Al’s grade A production, it’s clear why the Grammy-nominated LP is so high up on the list.
3. Miles: From an Interlude Called Life– Blu & Exile
Reuniting for the first time in eight years, the stakes were high for the prolific duo known as Blu & Exile but fortunately, the two have aged like fine, and their third studio record, Miles: From an Interlude Called Life, backs this up. Covering an array of topics ranging from racism to self worth, the knowledge spewed through the god-like pen game of Blu is truly priceless but what ultimately ties things together is Exile’s intricate sampling and illusive chord patterns. When it comes to a pure musical experience that breaks down the principles of life to their purest ideals, Miles is in a league of its own.
2. RTJ4- Run the Jewels
In a year filled with turmoil, trials, and tribulation, there was no better answer to the world’s chaos than the long-awaited RTJ4. Focusing on themes of corruption, greed, and most importantly, social injustice, veteran MC’s El-P and Killer Mike put their blood, sweat, and tears into creating a living embodiment of the troubles our nations under. All over an explosively intense soundtrack, the production complements the duo’s signature flare near-perfectly, resulting in the painting of a super important picture that all can apply to their lives. No matter how separated we are from the disastrous year we all know as 2020, Run The Jewels’ fourth studio album will forever solidify the memories, so many of us will try so hard to forget.
1. Burden of Proof- Benny the Butcher
In Griselda’s most dominant year yet, their most revered lyricist ends up taking the number one spot. What makes Burden of Proof so special is the completion of Benny the Butcher’s artistic journey, which is summed up best by the line, “Money over fame, a real boss make his b***h one too”. With an elegant score crafted by none other than Hit-Boy, the 36-year old’s second album is additionally the label’s most sonically profound. As a whole, between the top-notch songwriting, production, and features from Lil Wayne, DOM KENNEDY, and more, it’s clear that Burden of Proof is already a modern gangsta rap classic.
List Created, Edited, and Written By: Marc Dator, owner and founder of Fantastic Hip Hop